The Borough of Kingston, being a phallic symbol of gerrymandering that it is, sticks out of London as far as Chessington. At the very tip of it’s head there is Chessington World of Adventures Amusement Park, which is much better than it sounds.
I am not of the joyous type. As the train of blithe kids terminates at Chessington South, I try my best to stay positive. Absurdity starts when you are ready for it, – I tell myself, – a journey of a thousand shrugs begins with a first one when you get out of that woman’s womb.
I want to savour the approach to the park, to explore its fringes – and I take a walk around the perimeter. Up the hill, the scenery pretends to be nonchalant about World of Adventures almost as well as I do: gentle slopes, humble, but deep views on the Shard. There are traces of real life here. “In memory of Mark Anstead” – says a stone that goes up to my waistline, – “from his friends and family”. Upon it there is a metal plate with distance-assuring engraving.
I am relieved to know that the City of London is just 15 miles away – not too far to run away.
Beyond the perimeter fence, I can hear children agonising with joy. Carpark glares on the sunlight.
I get the park map at the entrance and step in.
The park consists of your usual mellow medley of a Disneyworld placeholder: Mexican, African, Asian cease to be real places and become imaginary hyper-realities – Mystic East, Wild West, African Savannah, Market Square. A harmony of things, each dissolving into the fadeout after never appearing. Carefully packaged second-rated magic.
The plan feels weird at first. I loose my way a few times before I get used to it. The park gets territorial, treacherous. The gravitational waves of the rides distort the reality on my map. Oversized bundles of joy are looming above as the beacons of enlightenment. The relationship between momentous and permanent is inverted. Animals, running children has made it to a map, while the paths itselves are simplified, dissolved into greenery.
The plan mocks my usual map by not even fitting into the shape designated for it by my cartographer.
I am happy to be in this miraculous Hollywoodish version of the world. Fun times promised, chances taken, smiles immortalised on the backdrop of nature-looking cardboard.
In this Mexico a sombrero – is an easy target for plush prises. Here we accept that a gift shop will be in a Saloon but in everyday life a shopping mall in an ex-cinema, a community centre in a ex-church can all of a sudden become a concerning turn. On one of the rides an Egyptian Sphinx blasters lasers out of its eyes.
Here, more, than anywhere else we thread the thin line of seriousness and hoax, oblivious to both. On one hand completely going along with the cardboard set of every building, and on the other completely defying it by mixing the the exterior and the essence.
October is quiet, half of queues’ spaces are empty. A four year old girl looks away from attractions, her melancholy mouth is busy filled with fingers. She stands against the back of her mum, who tries to rearrange the stuff in the pushchair.
As a thunder in paradise, a scarlet carpet of leaves unfolded in the middle east and wild west a few days ago. The pavilions bend under the heavy grapes of plush toys. A an unintended mishmash of copyrighted objects and autumn.
The more you walk, the more you notice the rusticity, almost Venetian elegant decay. The park is various degrees of tired.
The zoo part consists of a ten-minute safari, an aquarium and a few cages for giant animals. You have to find some obscure piece of an artefact in each of the beast’s cage, which only sounds like a sub-standard Indiana Jones spinoff but in fact is a deep polylogue opened to no-one. In the world of stereotype frenzy you have to have a at least some storytelling when you show wild animals.
In order to put you message across the animals have to be humanised, relatable, post-natural. Without it one might think the nature is a chaotic and unpredictable place where carbon-based life survives by mere chance.
Not overly relatable, of course. They can be doe-eyed and have a name and a little plaque with a brief biography and dietary options, that’s enough. Otherwise, “why they are in cages and I am not” – your kid might ponder. And you might have to explain a bit more than you wished you had.
Never a dull moment in the mixture of repetitive attractions, fence-bound maps and scripted animal shows. On one of latter a cracked voice tries to outperform background static guilt-tripping about deforestation in Brazil, declining numbers of wildlife, global warming and rapid urbanisation. It’s grand finale is a marketing pitch for a charity.
After a terrible crash of bumper cars, where no-one survived I found myself resuscitating under a gentle caress of the autumn sunset. October is spacious – only every second car is occupied. After it – more walks.
“Unleash a VIP in you” – urges me subscription-enticing ad on the toilet door.
Good idea! My body’d been buried below, way back in the day now. But I want to live! I want to drop my substandard life as a collection of atoms and unleash a VIP. I bet those guys have the best time here. Perhaps this would make cardboard look even more bombastic, than it is now.
But it’s too late. As dusk falls, light turns green, roller-coasters flash silver frames, freezing ecstatic smiles. Queues evaporated as visitors make haste to their cars. People movement, previously chaotic, now definitely exitbound. So am I.